Child Adaptation and Neurodevelopment (CAN) Lab

Research


Baby Affect and Behavior (Baby) study


Bright-Eyed Newborn

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The developmental origins of childhood physical, emotional, and behavioral problems begin in utero. Prenatal experiences “program” the infant for the context s/he will encounter upon birth, laying a foundation for health outcomes and disease. However, the biological mechanisms linking the prenatal environment to early infant outcomes remain understudied. The application of epigenetic methods to human behavior is a relatively new and innovative endeavor devoted to understanding how environmental influences shape gene expression independent of DNA structure. Infants exposed to extreme stress during pregnancy show epigenetic adaptations, consistent with theories that biological systems calibrate in preparation for a high-risk postnatal environment.

The goal of this study is to advance the science and technology of prenatal programing research by (1) identifying mothers with the full range of emotional distress and carefully characterizing maternal stress reactivity (e.g., autonomic and neuroendocrine) in a laboratory assessment; and (2) developing a novel, hypothesis-driven assay to assess epigenetic processes withinInfant in CANLAB onesie, Baby Affect and Behavior Study a network of genes. When the aims of this project are realized we will have an improved understanding of early outcomes for infants of dysregulated mothers. We will also have created a novel assay, which will promote rapid replication as well as new investigations of stress-related epigenetic marks.

Collaborators: Sheila Crowell, PhD (University of Utah), Meaghan Jones, PhD (University of British Columbia), Michael Kobor, PhD (University of British Columbia) Catherine Monk, PhD (Columbia University), Sara Mostafavi, PhD (University of British Columbia)

Funding: NIMH R21 MH10977701A1 (Crowell, PI, Conradt, Co-I, Kobor, Co-I, Monk, consultant), University of Utah department of psychology, Consortium for Families and Health Research at the University of Utah, and the Interdisciplinary Research Pilot Program at the University of Utah


Babies Brains and Behavior (BEES) Study


Infant part of the BEES study

How is a baby’s temperament related to his or her brain development? Every baby is unique and has his/her own personality. Some infants are shy and fearful while others are more active and easy-going. We are interested in how these individual differences manifest at the neural level. This study is investigating whether differences in neural processing of emotions and novelty are associated with an infant’s early temperament. Although infancy is recognized as a period of widespread brain development, little is known about how an infant’s temperament is related to his or her early neural activity. In particular, we are interested in the neural underpinnings Infant part of the BEES studyof temperamental fearfulness – a profile characterized by reactivity and reticence in the face of the unfamiliar that is associated with risk for childhood anxiety. Research with older children suggests that neural activation related to reactivity and attentional processes may be implicated in exaggerated fearfulness; it is unclear whether these patterns of activation are related to this temperament profile in the first year of life. Neural activity of the infants is being recorded using electroencephalography (EEG), a noninvasive technique that has been used extensively with infants and young children. Identifying differences in brain activity related to temperament may eventually help doctors and parents to support their baby's developing personality.

Collaborators: Martha Ann Bell, PhD (Virginia Tech), Trafton Drew, PhD (University of Utah)

Funding: University of Utah department of psychology, Consortium for Families and Health Research at the University of Utah, University of Utah Neuroscience Initiative


BRAINS IN BLOOM (BiB) STUDY


Baby looking at colorful abstract brain

How does exposure to maternal mood before birth affect an infant’s brain development? The prenatal period is a time of unparalleled growth and neural organization, with up to 250000 neurons in the fetal brain forming every minute. Children exposed to maternal anxiety in utero are more likely to be characterized as inhibited, withdrawn, and fearful of unfamiliar people and/or situations across development. In infancy, these children exhibit exaggerated fearfulness, a temperamental profile related to risk for the development of childhood anxiety. Temperamental fearfulness has been associated with activation of the brain’s fear circuitry among older children; however, little is known about the developmental origins of this neurobehavioral profile. This prospective study is investigating whether 7-month-old infants exposed to anxiety in utero differ in fear circuitry activation, and, if so, whether this response profile is associated with early temperament (i.e., fearfulness). Neural activity of the infants is being recorded using electroencephalography (EEG), a noninvasive technique that has been used extensively with infants and young children. Identifying neural processing differences as a product of the prenatal experience would reveal one pathway by which risk for anxiety disorders may be transmitted from mother to child. Elucidating the prenatal mechanisms underlying the transmission of mood will further clarify the developmental origins of risk for internalizing disorders.

Collaborators: Martha Ann Bell (Virginia Tech), Trafton Drew, PhD (University of Utah)

Funding: University of Utah department of psychology, Predoctoral (F31) National Research Service Award, Ostlund PI, in preparation


Other Collaborations


Rhode Island Child Health Study (Carmen Marsit, PhD, PI)

Maternal Lifestyle Study (Barry Lester, PhD, PI)

From pregnancy to parenting study (Jennifer Ablow, PhD and Jeff Measelle, PhD, PIs).